Electronic highways under the sea

map-cablingSince the development of the first international link between France and England in 1850, the international submarine cable network has provided an important infrastructural foundation for economic and social development around the world.

Submarine cables carry signals through a set of glass fibres (previously copper wires) protected by plastic and steel wires. They digitally convert voice, data and images into sequences of ‘0’ and ‘1’, enabling almost instant communication of large volumes of information between nations and continents. Today, nearly one million kilometres of optical submarine cables traverse the five oceans, carrying 99 per cent of transoceanic data traffic, transmitting signals more than eight times faster than via satellite. However, the design, deployment, installation, operation and maintenance of submarine cables is complex, especially when extended over large geographic areas: marine topography, ocean currents, shipping lanes, fishing grounds and anchorages must be mapped to ensure that cables are laid in a manner in which they won’t be disturbed or accidentally severed.

To mark ITU’s 150th anniversary, Fundação Portuguesa das Comunicações (Portuguese Communications Foundation) and its founder ANACOM, hosted an exhibition highlighting the important role that submarine cables have played in the development of global communications. ‘The Submarine Cable in a Sea of Connectivity’ exhibition, held from 19 May – 30 April 2015, showcased the importance that Portugal has had, and continues to have, in terms of the international transmission network as a landing point for international cables and traffic distribution for over 150 years.

The exhibition focused on the most significant technologies and techniques used to lay and operate submarine cables over that period, as well as the technological, economic and social impact of global communications. Portugal has played a key role in the development of submarine cables; Portugal’s geographical position and continued innovation in the field has made it an important point of transit and interconnection in transatlantic communications since 1870. Today, Portugal enjoys excellent integration in the international network with low latency to the world’s major voice and data traffic destinations and is the only country in the world directly linked by submarine cable to every continent in the world, except Antarctica.

As the information and communication (ICT) sector continues to grow, connecting new markets and enabling new technologies, the ocean floor will continue to play a key role in the future of communications.

contributor_itu_news21ITU News Magazine

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